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Covid concern 2,029 Covid cases reported with 88 in ICU as Paul Reid warns of major pressures ahead

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan warned that the country had seen a "significant increase in transmission over the course of the last fortnight."

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HSE chief executive Paul Reid (Niall Carson/PA)

HSE chief executive Paul Reid (Niall Carson/PA)

HSE chief executive Paul Reid (Niall Carson/PA)

There have been a further 2,029 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.

As of Thursday morning, there were 448 patients in hospital with the virus, with 88 of those in intensive care.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan warned that the country had seen a "significant increase in transmission over the course of the last fortnight".

He called on people to take particular care ahead of the bank holiday weekend.

Ireland's health system will face major pressures in the weeks ahead, the chief of the Health Service Executive (HSE) also warned on Thursday.

At the first HSE briefing since August, Paul Reid said that rising Covid-19 cases, as well as the spread of flu and respiratory illnesses, was a cause for concern.

Health officials said that Ireland was likely to face another difficult winter, with some hospitals already being forced to scale back scheduled treatment because of the latest surge of the virus.

On Tuesday, the Government said it would ease some Covid-19 restrictions, but that a range of public health guidelines would remain in place until February 2022.

Mr Reid told reporters on Thursday that projections from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) that intensive care numbers could reach around 150 by the end of November was worrying.

"More older people are getting sicker, more people are being hospitalised and indeed more people, by the day, are being put into ICU. The projections, communicated from Nphet earlier this week, have caused particular levels of concern to our ICU consultants," Mr Reid told reporters.

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HSE chief executive Paul Reid

HSE chief executive Paul Reid

HSE chief executive Paul Reid

He added: "We know, and the hospital systems know, that they need extra support through the winter."

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He said that everyone could remember the huge pressure that had faced the health system in some of the previous phases of the pandemic, when vast numbers of operations and procedures were cancelled.

"Nobody wants to go back to a situation where we collapse all non-Covid care to cope with those numbers."

"We would cope with the numbers, but it impacts then on other aspects of healthcare."

There are 448 people in hospital at the moment with the virus, Mr Reid said.

Eighty-eight people (as of lunchtime) are in intensive care with Covid-19, taking up 30pc of intensive care capacity in Ireland.

Mr Reid said that 52pc of those people in intensive care were not vaccinated, while 41pc were fully vaccinated.

He said that 5pc were partially vaccinated.

Mr Reid that there was there was a "very significant disproportionate impact upon those who are not vaccinated entering into ICU".

Figures released on Thursday by the HSE also revealed that there had been an 18pc increase in Covid-19 testing in the last week.

Positivity rates from testing carried out at community testing sites now sits at 11.8pc.

In Kerry, that figure has reached as high as 19pc.

Niamh O'Beirne, head of testing and tracing in the HSE, said five weeks ago that figure was 6.8pc.

Earlier on Thursday, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said "nobody can rule out" the reintroduction of pandemic restrictions.

Speaking on the fringes of an EU summit in Brussels, Mr Varadkar said: "The CMO (chief medical officer) was clear about that in his letter."

The National Public Health Emergency Team gave its first briefing since late August on Wednesday as the number of cases, hospital admissions and deaths linked to the virus continues to grow.

At that briefing, health officials warned that mortality rates from Covid-19 are expected to rise in the coming weeks.

Damien McCallion, who leads the HSE's vaccination programme, said people were still coming forward for vaccinations.

He said some people as old as 80 were still arriving for the jab, with 1,000 people a day coming forward over the last two weeks.

The HSE will run a campaign during Halloween to encourage certain groups where uptake has been low to take up the Covid-19 vaccine.

More than 92pc of people in Ireland are fully vaccinated.

Vaccine boosters for people over the age of 60 were approved by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) this week.

Mr McCallion said the booster programme for that population would begin in the coming weeks, with around 800,000 people expected to be contacted for a third dose of the vaccine.

Mr Reid also confirmed that from November 1, all maternity services in Ireland would be significantly easing restrictions on visiting for partners.

The ongoing restrictions had been a cause of anger and concern for many expectant mothers and their families.

"Maternity services can provide access for nominated support partners to access inpatient areas during normal visiting hours of 8am to 8pm," he said.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, on Twitter, said he welcomed the new guidance that would provide "open access for partners".

Mr Reid thanked women and their partners for cooperating with the HSE "during this difficult and challenging time".

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